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Jury gives Kin $25.5 Million for Family Deaths

The Daily Journal

By Ryan Oliver – Daily Journal Staff Writer

A Superior Court jury in Burbank on Wednesday awarded three adult siblings $25.5 million for the St. Patrick’s Day deaths five years ago of their parents and teen-age brother who were hit by a drunken driver.

The jury deliberated 2.5 days before reaching its verdict against the estate of Tracy Michael Courrege, 26, who was killed in the head-on collision.

An autopsy showed Courrege’s blood-alcohol level was twice the legal limit at the time of the accident.

Plaintiffs’ lawyer Brian J. Panish of Panish Shea & Boyle in West Los Angeles called the award “a monument to the loss suffered by the family.”

“This is a very close, tight-knit family,” Panish said.

In a statement, the family’s oldest son, Jeffrey Sherman, said, “Nothing can make up for the tremendous loss our family has suffered. Our family will never be the same. I can only hope that people will stop and think about what happened to our family before they get behind the wheel drunk.”

Richard, 53, and Pamela Sherman, 51, along with their 15-year-old son, Ryan, were traveling home to Mammoth from Bakersfield on U.S. Highway 395 when their car was struck by Courrege on March 17, 2000. Courrege, along with two other people in his vehicle were drinking screwdrivers and had stopped at a liquor store to replenish their vodka supply when the car accident occurred, Panish said.

Courrege’s two passengers were the only survivors of the quadruple fatal accident. An autopsy revealed Courrege’s blood-alcohol content was 0.181.

The Shermans’ remaining children, Jeffrey, Andrew and Karen Sherman – ages 28 to 35 – sued Courrege’s estate, culminating in an eight-day trial beginning June 27. Estate of Sherman v. Estate of Courrege, BC030284 (L.A. Superior Ct. July 20, 2005).

Earlier in this case, one of Courrege’s passengers settled with the family for $500,000, Panish said. Panish estimated that the family could get an additional $8 million in prejudgment interest on the $25.5 million award.

But another attorney involved in the case said the family is unlikely to see anything close to that amount. State law that allows for pre-judgment interest doesn’t apply in this case, and Rosemarie S. Lewis, who represented Courrege’s Insurance carrier, Mutual Casualty Insurance CO.

Metro Motorsports of Texas, owned by the brother of Courrege, was the registered owner of Courrege’s car. The company carried a $1 million policy on the car. Before the trial began, they offered $1 million.

Lewis of Borton Petrini & Conron said Courrege’s estate “wasn’t a party in this lawsuit, they didn’t make an appearance, they didn’t put on a defense.”

“The only issue in this trial was who was going to get the $1 million,” she said.

Steven J. Freeberg, who represented Courrege’s rear-seat passenger Kevin Magner of Dallas, also was trying to collect on the policy.

“This settlement’s one of those big numbers no one’s going to see,” Freeburg said.

Sherman v. Courrege

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